Stratification and Education

I have a few papers examining processes related to intergenerational educational stratification and related disparities in educational attainment.

Diaz, Christina J., and Jeremy E. Fiel (2016). “The Effect(s) of Teen Pregnancy: Reconciling Theory, Methods, and Findings.” Demography 53(1):85-116.
Although teenage mothers have lower educational attainment and earnings than women who delay fertility, causal interpretations of this relationship remain controversial. Scholars argue that there are reasons to predict negative, trivial, or even positive effects, and different methodological approaches provide some support for each perspective. We reconcile this ongoing debate by drawing on two heuristics: (1) each methodological strategy emphasizes different women in estimation procedures, and (2) the effects of teenage fertility likely vary in the population. Analyses of the Child and Young Adult Cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 3,661) confirm that teen pregnancy has negative effects on most women’s attainment and earnings. More striking, however, is that effects on college completion and early earnings vary considerably and are most pronounced among those least likely to experience an early pregnancy. Further analyses suggest that teen pregnancy is particularly harmful for those with the brightest socioeconomic prospects and who are least prepared for the transition to motherhood.

Fiel, Jeremy E. (2019). “The Transmission of Multigenerational Educational Inequality.” Social Forces 97(4):1455-1486.
This study (pre-print version, supplement) explores the transmission of educational inequality across three generations in the United States. It addresses two common problems in analyses of multigenerational inequality: omitted mechanisms of indirect transmissions through grandparents’ early influences on parents, and theoretically problematic tests of direct effects based on non-zero residual grandparent-child associations. The first problem leads to upwardly biased direct effect estimates; analyses that control for parents’ attributes and experiences during their own childhood eliminate most grandparent-child educational associations. Conversely, the second problem can obscure direct effects. This study avoids inferring direct effects from residual grandparent-child associations by assessing the explanatory power of measured child attributes that constitute likely mechanisms of direct effects. It finds little evidence of direct effects overall, although there is some indication of direct effects on bachelor’s degree attainment among those with the most-educated grandparents. The findings also speak to potential mechanisms of direct and indirect educational transmission.

Fiel, Jeremy E. (2020). “Great Equalizer or Great Selector? Reconsidering Education as a Moderator of Intergenerational Transmissions.” Sociology of Education 93(4):353-371.
Here (pre-print version) I revisited a longstanding consensus among sociologists that educational attainment has an “equalizing effect” that increases intergenerational mobility by moderating other avenues of intergenerational status transmission. Put another way, it has been said that a college degree can break the link between one’s family background and one’s own socioeconomic attainment. But prior work is plagued by two potential problems: measurement error in parents’ socioeconomic standing, and the educational system’s tendency to select people predisposed for mobility rather than to actually affect mobility. I conduct analyses of family income mobility that address both of these problems in three longitudinal surveys. Across all three surveys, I find that intergenerational economic mobility is significantly lower among high school dropouts than others, but there are no significant differences in mobility across higher education levels. This is consistent with compensatory advantage processes among the least educated, in which individuals from advantaged backgrounds use family-based resources to compensate for their lack of human capital. If education has an equalizing effect, it seems that it is not a college degree that does the trick, but a high school diploma.

Diaz, Christina J., and Jeremy E. Fiel (equal authorship). (2020). “When Size Matters: IV Estimates of Sibship Size on Educational Attainment in the U.S.” Population Research and Policy Review.
This article reevaluates the old question of whether having more siblings reduces one’s socioeconomic prospects. We treated multiple birth events—twin (or higher-order) births—as a natural experiment that increases sibship sizes for some older siblings. We pooled data from several longitudinal surveys and found no evidence that an additional second, third, or fourth sibling significantly lowered older siblings’ educational attainment. We did find a sizable negative effect of adding a fifth sibling, which was concentrated at the transitions to college attendance and bachelor’s degree attainment. This is consistent with theories of threshold effects where additional children beyond a certain point create financial constraints that dilute investments in children.

Gamoran, Adam, Hannah K. Miller, Jeremy E. Fiel, and Jessa Lewis Valentine. (2021). “Social Capital and Student Achievement: An Intervention-Based Test of Theory.” Sociology of Education.
James Coleman argued that social capital (resources accessible through social networks), especially among families of school children, was an important determinant of children’s educational outcomes. We leveraged a field experiment of FAST (Families and Schools Together), an after-school program proven to build and improve relations among families, to examine the effects of social capital on achievement (free pre-print version here). The intervention was randomly assigned at the school level to first-grade families in 52 schools in Phoenix, AZ and San Antonio, TX. Over two years later, based on standardized tests at the end of third grade, we find no evidence of FAST effects on math or reading achievement. We also find no evidence that the social capital boosted by the FAST intervention had any effects on achievement. Conversely, non-experimental analyses of social capital measures prior to the intervention in this sample were positively associated with achievement test scores, indicating that observational analyses of social capital effects on achievement are likely upwardly biased by confounding background characteristics that boost both social capital and achievement.